Vernon P. "Woody" Bliss (1934 - 2020)

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  • "He was such a gem. Sending peace to his loved ones left..."
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Service Information
Celebration of Life
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020
11:00 AM
Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew
8 Church Street
Greenfield, MA
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Vernon Powell "Woody" Bliss, formerly Vernon Powell Woodward, age 85, beloved husband of Sarah Bliss, died January 21, 2020, at their home in Montague, Massachusetts. Woody was the devoted father of Stewart Woodward of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Hobson Woodward of Rowley, Massachusetts, and cherished brother of Ada (Woodward) Warner of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Woody was born in Wyoming, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, on May 24, 1934, the son of Vernon and Hilma (Hohrath) Woodward. Memories of childhood centered on woodworking projects with his father, most notably the construction of a rideable model of a U.S. Navy Hellcat aircraft that ran on a zipline in the backyard. Summers were spent with extended family at his grandparents' cottage in Forest Beach, Michigan.

As a student at Wyoming High School, class of 1952, Woody gained a deep interest in science through participation in annual Ohio Science Day fairs. An advertisement in Scientific American led to summer internships in 1952 and 1953 at Jackson Laboratory, a center for cancer research in Bar Harbor, Maine. Woody enrolled in Cornell University in the fall of 1952, majoring in chemical engineering and finding community as a member of Triangle fraternity. A change of heart led to a new academic focus, and Woody transferred to Kenyon College, graduating in the class of 1957 with a degree in Philosophy.

Woody married fellow Jackson Laboratory student Mary Skinner in 1956, residing in Manhattan where he completed a divinity degree at General Theological Seminary and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1960. The family, now including sons Stewart and Hobson, moved to Cincinnati where Woody ministered to congregants of the Church of the Advent. In September 1961 Woody joined a multiracial group of priests on a "prayer pilgrimage" to the South and was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, when the group attempted to dine at a segregated lunch counter. The freedom ride was a prelude to a decade of civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activism, including attendance at Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

In 1961 Woody became vicar of St. George's Church in the upstate New York town of Chadwicks on the outskirts of Utica. The family hosted Kenyan student James Okwiry, initiating a lifelong friendship with the Okwiry family. In 1965 Woody turned from the ministry to education, teaching at Utica College of Syracuse University and later moving with his family to nearby New Hartford.

Woody moved to Massachusetts in 1970, attaining a Ph.D. in educational administration from the Union Graduate School in New York and settling in Cambridge where he resided for a quarter century. In 1980 he married Judith Moll, working first as an education specialist and then finding his calling as an organizational development consultant to small nonprofits focused on the arts and environmental protection. Woody relished his life in Cambridge, especially as a volunteer in the city's recycling program and as a member of the statewide Earth Spirit community.

At the turn of the century Woody moved to western Massachusetts to join his beloved Sarah. Sarah and Woody married in 2005 in Tyringham, taking the last name Bliss to honor shared colonial ancestor Margaret (Hulins) Bliss. They settled in Montague, where Woody's passions included collaborating with Sarah in her art and filmmaking, authentic movement/contemplative dance, storytelling, building community of all kinds, contributing to the creation of food justice through service at the Center for Self-Reliance in Greenfield, board service at the Temenos Retreat Center, nurturing board and organizational development at the Performance Project and the Amherst Writers & Artists Workshop, researching family history and attending Red Sox games with son Hobson, doing woodworking projects with son Stewart, and going on outings with granddaughters Sadie and Sage. He was a voracious reader, a lover of the natural world, and a spiritual seeker.

In addition to his wife Sarah and his sister, sons, granddaughters, and former wives, Woody leaves his mother-in-law Judith Grant of Raleigh, North Carolina; daughters-in-law Elizabeth Woodward (Hobson) and Dianne O'Donoghue (Stewart); brother-in-law Frank Warner (Ada); brother-in-law Robert Grant (Emily Grant) and sister-in-law Kate Stryker (E.J. Lindsay), of Raleigh; nephews and niece Ashton Rooney, Carolyn Rooney, Devin Rooney, Ben Grant, Wyatt Grant, Bruce Warner (Linda Fagan), and Cliff Warner (Debra Warner); grandnieces Ashley and Gillian Warner and grandnephews Matthew and Justin Warner.

Friends and family are invited to join in a celebration of Woody's life at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 1, 2020, at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew, 8 Church Street, Greenfield, Massachusetts, which Woody returned to in the last year of his life. Gifts in lieu of flowers may be made to the ACLU of Massachusetts' Immigrant Protection Project.
Published in Recorder on Jan. 28, 2020
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